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Catering to the CUV/SUV crowd

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Catering to the CUV/SUV crowd

Is the glass half full or half empty? Sometimes success in business depends on how you look at the world. Take auto sales, which directly impact tire sales.

“No one can deny that new car sales are down, especially in the light truck and SUV segment,” says Julie Sediq, director of marketing communications for Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“However, it is extremely important to remember a few things: One, the segment has not gone away entirely. Two, there are plenty of used SUVs, light trucks and crossovers on the road today.

The owners of these vehicles either need or will one day need replacement tires. And three, one of the easiest ways to freshen up an aging SUV, crossover or light truck is to replace the tires and wheels.

“Dealers should promote this in their marketing — that making that small change can make a big difference in the appearance and the way people feel about the vehicle. Some might even say the SUV feels new again, and it is much cheaper than buying a new vehicle.”

Thus, she points out, the “weaker economy and the decreasing new car sales are offering dealers a selling opportunity.”

Marketing points

“When replacement time comes,” says Sediq, “customers are looking for tires that provide excellent value. And I don’t just mean the lowest price. I mean a tire with high marks in quality and performance — a tire they can count on to carry their family safely for tens of thousands of miles.

“They might also be looking for a tire that is stylish, making them feel good about their used car that they have had to keep another year.”

Melissa Montisano, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s general manager of light truck tires, says Goodyear recognized the emerging SUV trend all the way back in 1999. And while SUV sales peaked in 2005, many consumers are now looking at replacement tires for the first time. “The tires must complement the vehicle and the customer’s driving style.”

Goodyear established the Fortera brand for the SUV segment — the Fortera TripleTred and the Fortera Silent-Armor. “We will continue our new size velocity addressing the segment, focusing on 16-inch and 17-inch tires,” she says. The company also has the Fortera HL highway luxury SUV line with “a tread wear warranty tuned for the OE consumer group.”

Montisano explains, “There are two groups: consumers who are happy with their OE tires, and those who are looking for a change, such as those who are looking for more all-season traction than their OE tires provided. Or they’re looking for a more comfortable ride. We need to give them options.”

“The number one selling point for SUV/crossover tires is styling,” Sediq feels. “These are very often sold in tire and wheel packages to people looking to customize their vehicle. It could be they are going to a larger rim diameter or simply a wider, lower profile than the OE tires. Regardless, the Toyo Proxes ST II and others like them offer stylish tread designs with modern, low-profile sidewalls.

“It is because they are often an upgrade that this segment of the tire business has been impacted so much by the recession,” Sediq feels. “People are choosing to not make these sometimes pricey purchases, opting instead to stay with the original equipment until it really needs replacing.”

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. officials note, “Within the purchase decision process, we believe that consumers are seeking to gain peace of mind, a comfortable ride and value for their money. Therefore, the key drivers of consumer research will focus on the areas of responsive handling, all season traction, ride comfort and mileage warranty.”

Crossing over to CUVs

And while SUV sales are slumping, crossover vehicle sales are actually improving. That bodes will for CUV-targeted tires when those tires wear out down the road.

Rick Brennan, vice president of sales and marketing for Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc., says, “The world of the crossover vehicle is one of confusion when it comes to tires. From the OE point of view, some car makers treat it as a truck, others as a station wagon based on a car.

“As a result, we have high performance tires, tame-looking light truck tires and ultra-high performance tires — nearly the whole range of tires available.

“If you look at the vehicle, it is a cross between an SUV and minivan,” notes Brennan. “The old station wagon is the target, but with a higher driver position and a bit more ‘sport’ built in. For this driver, the key features center around everyday drivability: long mileage, ride comfort, low noise, all-season capability and car-like handling.

“The sizes being used today are evolving rapidly. The 55- to 65-series aspect ratios rule the roost, and rim diameters range from 16 inches to 20 inches.

“But no matter what the tire size is, the same basic features are demanded.”

Montisano says the CUV market is broken down into three segments, with different products needed for each:

1. CUVs that are technically the modern mini-vans, such as the Ford Edge. These vehicles are more wagon-like in design. These vehicle owners are looking for long tread wear and comfort.

2. SUV-like crossovers such as the Honda Pilot and the Acura MDX. These vehicle owners are looking for ruggedness and comfort, what she refers to as “refined ruggedness.”

3. Luxury crossovers such as the BMW X5. These vehicle owners are looking for optimum tire performance.

Some tire companies are specifically targeting the CUV market with new products.

During the past two years, Cooper has  launched the premium CS4 Touring and Discoverer CTS lines that are “extensive in their market coverage,” the company notes.

Cooper also is working on its first product designed specifically to offer low-rolling resistance and optimum wet traction, the Cooper GFE  (Greater Fuel Efficiency). The GFE is debuting next month and is designed to provide reduced rolling resistance without sacrificing tread life or traction, while offering long tread wear, improved wet traction and a smooth, quiet ride.

Michelin North America Inc. recently launched the Michelin Latitude Tour crossover/SUV tire that boasts fuel efficiency,  a quiet ride, and traction on wet roads.

For crossover vehicles, Kumho will launch the Solus KL21 later this year, says Brennan. The KL21 will focus on delivering long mileage, ride comfort, low noise and optimum all-season traction and handling.

The tread design is specifically created for the crossover vehicle market.

The KL21 will also be one of the first Kumho products to be environmentally friendly. The  KL21 will include T, H and V speed rating in a total of 33 sizes.

Mark Richter, senior manager, dealer marketing, for Falken Tire Corp., reports his company has key sizes targeting CUVs and SUVs in three existing tread designs. They include the ZE 912 for small to mid-size crossovers; the STZ 04, a mid- to large crossover/SUV tire ; and the HS 439, designed for small to mid-size crossovers. This is the company’s new winter performance tire line, which offers higher speed ratings. It is available in sizes up to 19 inches.

Continental Tire North America Inc. reports its recently introduced ExtremeContact DWS with the company’s “Tuned Performance Indicators” in the tread addresses the SUV and crossover segments. It is available in 33 sizes, with 55 more sizes to be added by the end of the year.

Montisano reports Goodyear “is on the cutting edge in the CUV market, and will be introducing new products to address the CUV market in the next 12 months.”     ■

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